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The tragic headlines look all too familiar: Several reported killed in second day of Afghan protests over Koran burning. And then Thursday, we learn that two American soldiers have been shot in retaliation and the Taliban is calling for revenge.
Afghan protesters shout anti-U.S. slogans during a protest at a mosque in the city of Herat February 23, 2012.
How could this kind of tragedy happen again?
American military leaders are apologizing, again. The world’s most moral and most advanced military has repeatedly shown an alarming lack of discipline—putting American troops and Afghans at risk with another provocative act. In 2005, it was revealed that military members were desecrating the Koran as part of their harsh interrogation tactics at Guantanamo. Earlier this year, we found out that a group of Marines videotaped themselves urinating on corpses of Taliban in Afghanistan. And this week, we learn of the “accidental incineration by U.S. military personnel of copies of the Islamic holy book.” Muslims revere the Koran more than anything else in this world; we do not even touch it without being ritually pure. Destroying the text is the ultimate act of disrespect to the faithful.
How could this sort of callousness happen, again?
If the U.S. military took these incidents seriously they would have had a policy in place to prevent just such an accident, including training on Islamic culture to teach incoming military personnel how to behave decently and respectfully towards people of other faiths. Since acts like the Koran burning, even when unintended, have huge implications for Muslim-American relations around the world, this training should be of the upmost priority.
General John Allen, the commander in charge, offered a quick apology and promised an inquiry. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta too has apologized. I sincerely hope he delivers on his promise. If he can quickly offer a correction and commitment to change, then perhaps the next time there is a similar crisis, the apology will look more sincere.
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Associate Professor at the University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. His website is www.ijtihad.org.